NEW YORK (AP) — The promoter of a fraudulent music festival that cost investors $26 million could face over a decade in prison after admitting Thursday that he duped some of the same victims into buying tickets he never possessed to everything from the Grammy Awards to a Cleveland Cavaliers game and a dinner with Lebron James.
The plea from Billy McFarland brought a speedy end to his prosecution for a set of new crimes that ensure he’ll spend more time in prison than if he had only been convicted of crimes related to the 2017 Fyre Festival on the Bahamian island of Exuma.
For that, McFarland, 26, earned tabloid headlines after he fraudulently enlisted 80 investors to pour $26 million into a music festival that was promoted as an ultra-luxurious event.
Billed as “the cultural experience of the decade,” it was touted on social media by Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and other models and celebrities, but the reality was far from it.
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Customers hoping to see Blink-182 and the hip hop act Migos arrived to learn music acts were canceled. Their luxury accommodations and gourmet food consisted of leaky white tents and cheese sandwiches. Customers lashed out on social media with the hashtag #fyrefraud.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles called the festival “nothing more than a get-rich-quick scam.” It said the festival’s inadequate food, water, shelter and medical care left attendees stranded on a remote island in a “dangerous and panicked situation.”
After pleading guilty in March to charges related to the festival, McFarland was arrested again last month on charges that he sold bogus tickets to fashion, music and sporting events to unsuspecting customers, some of whom were drawn from investors in the Fyre Festival.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement that McFarland’s latest plea shows his “disturbing pattern of deception.”
McFarland admitted in court that he intended to defraud customers who bought tickets that didn’t exist to the 2018 Met Gala, Burning Man 2018, Coachella 2018, the 2018 Grammy Awards, Super Bowl LII and a Cleveland Cavaliers game that would include a team dinner with Lebron James.
He also admitted writing a bad check and lying to the FBI.
“I know this is wrong and I know I broke the law,” he said. “I sold the tickets with intention to defraud.”
Prosecutors say he defrauded 15 victims since late last year of more than $100,000 while he was living lavishly with monthlong stays in luxury hotels and excursions to expensive restaurants.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 17. A plea agreement encompassing all of his crimes calls for a sentence of between 11 years and 14 years in prison.